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A New Age : 'THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS' INTRODUCES ISSUES OF THE ELDERLY

June 20, 1993|LIBBY SLATE | Libby Slate writes frequently for TV Times and Calendar

While summer is traditionally the soap season for youthful frolic, CBS' "The Young and the Restless" is going against type this year. Despite its name, and the advertisers' dictum that youth sells, the top-rated soap is devoting one of its major summer story lines to the plight of the elderly.

When attorney Cricket Romalotti (Lauralee Bell) is asked by a senior citizen named Miles Dugan (Parley Baer) to help his 82-year-old friend Margaret Anderson (Maxine Stuart), who has been accused of shoplifting, she ends up taking on more than she bargained for. Margaret, as it turns out, lives in a substandard apartment building, and enlists Cricket's aid to fight her absentee landlord. Along the way, Cricket--and viewers--will learn more about such matters as the difficulty of living on a fixed income and love and sex among the elderly.

The idea of spotlighting older people was suggested by one of the soap's writers, Jack Smith, to William J. Bell, co-creator-executive producer and head writer of "The Young and the Restless."

"I felt the time had come," Bell says. "The elderly are the fastest-growing population in the country, and we wanted to deal with their problems."

In doing so, a primary concern was to dispel stereotypes. "The images on everyone's mind are those of the elderly as forever ill, senile, crotchety, slow-witted," says Bell, who at 66 says he is too busy enjoying his life to think about his age.

"So these are charming people. They're full of life, they act and react. I saw Maxine on 'Murphy Brown' (where she played an intern this season on the show's TV newsroom setting), and she epitomized what I wanted--someone who brought a feistiness, a vitality and energy with her, who's gregarious and fun-loving."

Stuart, who declines to reveal her age but emphatically says she is not yet 82, agrees. "A lot of the stuff they're saying is true. I act like I'm 12. When you're 20, you think, 'Oh, my god, if I ever get to be 30, I'll be so old.' But when you get to be this age, if you don't look in the mirror--or see yourself on TV--you don't know."

Adds Baer, 78, who celebrated his 47th wedding anniversary the day he started work on the show, "I admire them for doing this, and I hope it will bring to light the fact that people who have reached the zenith of 65 or more are not through. The idea of voluntary retirement is an anathema. The calendar may say 65, but your biological clock may say 45."

Bell, who also plans plenty of youth-oriented intrigue during these next few months, says he is unconcerned that "The Young and the Restless" may lose some of its younger audience; it has the second-largest number of young viewers among the soaps, behind ABC's "All My Children."

"I feel if the story is done right, it can have enormous appeal to young people," he says. "So many of us have older parents and other family. So perhaps it will allow viewers a little more insight, tolerance and, certainly, understanding."

Besides, he points out, the twentysomething Cricket and her singing star-husband Danny (Michael Damian) are part of the plot line; the long hours she devotes to Miles and Margaret will put a strain on their marriage.

But aiding the story's cause is the fact that "The Young and Restless" draws more older viewers than all the soaps. "They'll find people they can relate to," Bell says. "There's no question that there are people out there who are alone and lonely. So they'll have new friends their own age to be inspired by."

Still, it is the younger audience that the soap opera would most like to influence. Says Stuart, "I hope that people will look much more realistically at old people, and know we're not freaks. We just have different problems, because our physiology is different--the machine changes and the maintenance is more expensive."

Sums up Bell: "We have to respect senior citizens, and portray them as the valuable resources that they are."

"The Young and the Restless" airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on CBS.

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